Patagonia Case Study: Developing Trigger Event Communities in Sustainable Fashion

Patagonia Case Study: Developing Trigger Event Communities in Sustainable Fashion

Patagonia is consistently setting new best practices when it comes to leading fashion sustainability initiatives. 

The brand in recent years has gone above and beyond in showing how much fashion companies can and need to change in order to address climate issues and environmental conservation. 

In the fashion industry, Patagonia can be considered a fully-fledged impact-first organization, or an entity that is able to jeopardize its profitability metrics in order to bring about real change in sustainable practices

Its environmental efforts can be set apart from other fashion companies, as Patagonia has been focused on initiatives that would materially impact the industry, by assisting and empowering its customers in making a difference. 

This practical, hands-on orientation is one of the elements that define Patagonia’s strategy. This approach can be defined as a trigger-event strategy, which is very different from a passion-led strategy which is the format more commonly followed by other fashion companies. 

In this post, we’re going to discuss the concept of the trigger-event community and how it can be used to describe some of the unique aspects of Patagonia’s brand.

How Sustainable Companies Often Connect to Customer Values

Sustainability in fashion is becoming a widespread trend as in recent years customers have begun to demand more transparency and traceability from fashion companies. 

As a result of these new customer demands, many brands have started developing sustainable practices, however,  the initial approach pursued in fashion was simply to realign company values to the values of sustainability-sensitive customers. 

This approach is what is usually referred to as Greenwashing, or essentially limiting sustainability efforts to the marketing campaigns of fashion brands, without actually working as hard on actual change initiatives. 

As a result, most fashion companies have started developing what we can define as “passion communities” or communities of customers who are connected to a brand because of its values. To some extent, we can agree that spreading the message is part of the solution, but it is not the ultimate solution.

This is why Patagonia, in the development of its customer relationships has opted for another approach, one that would go beyond a declaration of intent, one that we can see connected to customer habits and behavior. 

Patagonia Targeting Customer Behaviour and Not Simply Values

Patagonia, in this context, was able to reflect on a garment’s lifecycle to understand what kind of problems or issues do customers meet on a day-to-day basis that prevents them from behaving responsibly towards the environment. 

In this approach, Patagonia went one step ahead and realized that in principle everyone would like to be more sustainable in their use of fashion products, but what actually impacts a customer’s sustainable habits are the actual issues that need to be overcome in order to be sustainable. 

By helping customers overcome the frictions that can lead them to dispose of garments in an unsustainable way Patagonia is not only spreading environmental consciousness, is actually helping people do the right thing. 

An example of this approach is connected to the communities and forums created for customers who want to learn how to maintain and repair clothing, following the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, where a repaired tear in old clothing is a form of beauty connected to the story the clothing has lived. Patagonia has developed a wealth of informative content to teach its customers how to repair and maintain clothing, aside from offering repair services for all of its collections. 

Whenever a customer decided to make a commitment to become more sustainable, Patagonia is able to welcome the customer and provide him or her with all of the necessary tools to make change happen. This decision, on behalf the customer is the type of event we call a “trigger event” or an event that opens many new events that will impact the customer’s life and will require him\her to learn how to overcome a series of new – and maybe unexpected – challenges.

In this sense trigger-event, communities are a very effective approach to developing your brand by actually delivering real help to the community you want to foster around your brand.

In the next section of our post, we’re going to discuss what characteristics define these online communities and how your brand could benefit from a similar approach to customer engagement.

Creating Trigger Event Communities That Experientialise the Brand

Trigger event communities are communities designed to help customers connect with experts who can help them solve a series of new questions that have arisen from a life event. 

Aside from examples connected to sustainability, a trigger event could be a city relocation, a new job, or the birth of a baby. 

In all of these cases, a person is faced with hundreds of new questions, that until that moment were irrelevant, and that now need to be answered by asking for expert advice. 

In passion-led communities, instead, people join simply because they share an interest, but with no real underlying need. Here lies the second difference with passion communities, which instead are less hierarchical and more peer-to-peer.

The third element of distinction is that a brand developing a passion community is usually trying to connect with a large audience that can be tracked through a sales funnel. By connecting with a large audience, the opportunity for conversion increases.

On the other hand, brands that develop trigger event communities, are usually not doing any sales, as the focus of the community is not to sell but to help. 

Having said this, the experiential connotation of a collaborative community can really deliver so much value to customers that as a result, the brand developing a trigger event community will be “top of mind” whenever the opportunity to buy presents itself. 

Great! Now that we’ve seen how Patagonia is a great example of an innovative brand, designing new patterns of social engagement with its customers we can move ahead and draw some conclusive remarks.


As we’ve seen in this post, Patagonia demonstrates to be a truly innovational brand. Aside from committing to sustainable ESG practices, it is also impacting consumer behavior and habit-formation by targeting practical aspects of clothing purchasing and maintenance. 

Developing trigger-event communities is a great way to build and develop your brand’s audience, by proving helpful and informational content that addresses your users’ challenges and everyday issues. 

If you’d like to read up more on the topic, we can refer you to an excellent book we recommend reading if you’re looking to develop a community-based strategy for your fashion brand: Social IMC: Social Strategies with Bottom-Line ROI

We’ve used this book as one of the sources for this article and we highly recommend it.

If you’re interested in case studies on contemporary fashion brands, or if you’re looking for more information on fashion business strategy, in our blog, you’ll be able to find a wealth of helpful and informative articles on how to develop your business and connect with your customers. Don’t hesitate to explore!

If you’re looking for an opportunity to deepen your understanding and knowledge of the practices of sustainable fashion, don’t hesitate to take a look at our course “The Sustainable Fashion Industry“. Our short and to-the-point, online class covers a wide range of topics spanning from sustainable business models to strategies to lower your carbon footprint. Here’s a link to the course, if you use the discount code BLOG20 at checkout you can access a 20% discount. Enjoy!

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Patagonia Case Study: Developing Trigger Event Communities in Sustainable Fashion In this post, we're looking at how Patagonia is contributing to fashion sustainability by creating trigger-event communities focused on helping users be more sustainable.
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